ABC News Breakfast, Perth - Interview with Virginia Trioli

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop, good morning and thanks for joining News Breakfast.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Virginia.

JOURNALIST: Have you managed to clarify whether any Australians have been caught up in that massacre either as the victims, the shooting victims, or among the injured?

JULIE BISHOP: Virginia, I have been in contact with our Consul General throughout the night and she has confirmed that at this stage no Australians have been identified as being amongst the victims killed or indeed those injured but I do want to say how shocked and saddened I am by this horrific incident that I extend our deepest sympathies to the families of the victims. At least 58 have been killed and our thoughts are with those injured – at least 515 have been injured – and our thoughts are also with the people of the United States who are now suffering through the deadliest mass killing in United States history and I've conveyed our condolences to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and I've offered to assist in any way we ca. But I can confirm that at this stage no Australians have been identified as being among the victims. We are working with local authorities and given the number of people potentially involved we're also contacting each hospital in the vicinity to ascertain whether any Australians have been admitted and so far the news is that none have been but we are continuing our work.

JOURNALIST: Yeah and a very difficult situation for everyone, so many Americans in the same position Julie Bishop, trying to find loved ones and of course hundreds as you say have been admitted to hospital so that's going to be a difficult process.

JULIE BISHOP: Well there were thousands of people at the concert. Las Vegas is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. In fact it was estimated that about 365,000 Australians visited Las Vegas during 2016. We have bolstered our consular staff numbers in both Los Angeles and Las Vegas. We are sending staff from Washington to work with our staff in Las Vegas and Los Angeles because there will be an ongoing process of seeking to contact all Australians who might or have been in the vicinity. If any Australians are concerned about the whereabouts of their loved ones and haven't been able to contact them directly I urge them to call our hotline 1300 555 135. We've had about 150 calls to our hotline to date and so there are a number of people concerned about their loved ones. Also we urge people to check the Smartraveller website for any updates and follow the advice of local authorities.

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop a matter of discussion with our analysts on the program today but also with our viewers is the distinction – if it matters in your view – between what is terrorism and what is extremism in a case like this. This man according to the federal authorities had no known link to any foreign terrorists. Is that distinction an important one today?

JULIE BISHOP: The United States authorities have not yet identified this as a terrorist attack. They have indicated that the perpetrator has killed himself, that he acted alone, that he has no known links to terror organisations, although I note that ISIS has claimed responsibility. But there is an ongoing investigation into this and it may be some time before the US authorities label it or confirm that it is the act of a lone gunman or a terrorist attack. We're waiting for them to give us that confirmation, but clearly there's going to be an ongoing investigation for some time yet.

JOURNALIST: To your mind is the distinction a clear one, what is extremism and what is terrorism when we look at incidents like this?

JULIE BISHOP: It's very difficult to say. If there are no links with a terrorist organisation there may be a whole range of motives. The motives aren't yet known so until we're in a position to give some kind of assessment of his motives it's hard to say what drove this horrific incident. But what we do know is that many, many people have been killed, many more have been injured and this is the deadliest mass shooting in US history. That alone is a massive tragedy and we will do all we can to work with the US authorities should they need our assistance.

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop, as a senior diplomat and someone who knows and understands the United States and has observed it for quite some time, in your estimation do you think after this there might finally be an appetite for change when it comes to gun control in the United States?

JULIE BISHOP: I am aware that the debate has started again. There are articles in US papers, there's a lot of talk-back and social media raising the gun control debate yet again. Each state in the United States has different laws, in Nevada, different from the laws elsewhere and I have no doubt that US policy makers and legislators will grapple with this issue once more. It's doubtful that this is what the Founding Fathers had in mind when the Constitution gave the right to bear arms but Australia can only share our experience and as we all well recall in the late 1990s we suffered a massacre at Port Arthur when a lone gunman killed 35 people. Our response under John Howard as Prime Minister at the time was the National Firearms Agreement and we focused on automatic and semi-automatic weapons and under the National Gun Buyback about 700,000 weapons were turned in and were destroyed. So we can share our experience but it will be up to the US policymakers, legislators, lawmakers and the US public should they wish to make change.

JOURNALIST: Just before I let you go, one quick question on your portfolio and it follows from a Twitter exchange yesterday between Rex Tillerson and the President of the United States Donald Trump about the possibility of talks with North Korea and it would appear that the President contradicted his Secretary of State there on that issue. Where would you like to see the United States position publically stated in relation to talks with North Korea?

JULIE BISHOP: I saw it differently. I saw the President referring to the fact that North Korea has not honoured one agreement in the past. It has failed to live up to any negotiated agreement. It is in defiance of numerous UN Security Council resolutions. Its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons tests are illegal. They are in violation of the UN Security Council resolutions and so North Korea has walked away from its commitments in the past. Secretary Tillerson is undertaking a collective strategy with countries including Australia but also with China, Japan, South Korea to exert maximum diplomatic, political and economic pressure on North Korea to bring it back to the negotiating table. Just because they've broken agreements in the past doesn't mean that we shouldn't try again to compel North Korea back to the negotiating table and seek to deter it from carrying out any further tests which are not only a threat to our region it poses a global security risk.

JOURNALIST: Good to talk to you this morning Julie Bishop. Thanks for making time for us.

JULIE BISHOP: Thanks Virginia.

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